In the Year of Pilgrimage Southwark Cathedral reflects on the mediaeval practice of ‘Measuring to the Saint’ – Lent Art Installation 2020’
In mediaeval times, there was a common practice called ‘Measuring to the Saint’. If you needed spiritual or physical help or healing, your body was measured from head to toe with a length of string or thread, which was then sent to the nearest Cathedral or Abbey, where the monks would make a candle from it, light it and pray for your eternal soul.
Inspired by this simple act of connection and illumination, artist Michelle Rumney is using this medieval practice of ‘Measuring to the Saint’ to create the Lent Art Installation for Southwark Cathedral in 2020. The installation will be on show in Southwark Cathedral from Ash Wednesday, 26 February to Good Friday, 10 April.
Reflecting on the ritual of pilgrimage and the fragile but powerful strength of our connections with each other through time and space, this year’s artwork traces Thomas Becket’s last journey from Southwark to Canterbury 850 years ago.
Twelve wax candles representing people with a connection to pilgrimage, including Thomas Becket and Marion Marples, who led many pilgrimages from Southwark will line the altar rail. These candles are as tall as the person they represent and will be lit in their memory every day throughout Lent. Lengths of string representing the 850 people ‘Measured to the Saint’ by Michelle are formed into a veil which will mask the altar itself.
The Dean of Southwark, the Very Revd Andrew Nunn, looks forward to the installation, saying
“This year’s Lent Art installation by Michelle Rumney brings us in touch with one of the practices of mediaeval pilgrims. Southwark Cathedral has a long association with the pilgrimage to Canterbury and the shrine of St Thomas Becket. This is the 850th anniversary of his martyrdom and as 2020 has been designated by the Church of England cathedrals as a Year of Pilgrimage this will be our particular focus.
Millions of people come into our cathedrals and churches each year to light a candle for a loved one or for themselves. The creation of candles to represent modern day ‘pilgrims’ at Southwark and this whole concept of ‘Measuring for the Saint’ makes real the pilgrim’s journey of prayer. We hope that this installation will encourage people to pray for one another and to step out on the pilgrim path.”
Michelle Rumney will be giving a talk on Sunday 15 March after the Cathedral Choral Eucharist entitled: “Pilgrimage: finding each other again in the paradise of free souls”. There will also be a special pilgrimage evening on Friday 6 March with Gregorian plainsong in a candlelit Cathedral.
Notes to Editors
Michelle Rumney is a Fine Arts graduate and works in mixed media including string, books and maps to create large scale paintings, paperworks and installations on the themes of repetition and transformation.
Her work touches on religion, psychology, history, geography and our attempts to make sense of the world around us and have been described as “other worldly”, “blissful” and “meditative”. Her textured surfaces and delicate spaces challenge our ideas of perception and perfection.
“The candles that form the installation are all in memory of special people who are no longer with us. They are all connected with myself in some way – we are all connected in any case. Some died last year while this project was being created, some are connected through the St Thomas Way heritage trail project – which is where I discovered the Measuring to the Saint practice and some are connected through London and Southwark.”
It’s 850 years since Becket gave his last sermon at Southwark and there are 850 strings veiling the altar, who represent people/animals – all still alive! The youngest was a newborn grandchild for a member of the Southwark congregation, the oldest was a lady who turned 103 in December 2019. The shortest was the baby, the tallest so far was a visitor to the Cathedral who was over 6’5″. They also include the Archbishop of Canterbury and the Archbishop of Wales.
Lent Art Installations at Southwark Cathedral
Now in its ninth year, the annual Lent Art Installation at Southwark Cathedral is about giving people new access points to the Cathedral, through an exploration of unconventional materials and mediums.
The intention is to bring new contemporary art to those who may not otherwise access it. This art piece then informs the preaching during Lent, to help lead the congregation and visitors through The Passion and thus becomes the focus of all that the Cathedral does during this key period. The work is referenced in the Holy Week preaching, the Lent meditation process, the Lent courses, and in talks by the artist.
The 2020 Lent Art Installation aims to bring in new audiences to the Cathedral and to make the Cathedral a more stimulating and interactive environment where visitors and members of the congregation can respond to the themes of Lent through engagement with the artwork.